She walked into the Biggest Store one morning four years before
with seventy-five other girls, applying for a job behind the waist
department counter. The phalanx of wage-earners formed a bewildering
scene of beauty, carrying a total mass of blond hair sufficient to
have justified the horseback gallops of a hundred Lady Godivas.
The capable, cool-eyed, impersonal, young, bald-headed man whose task
it was to engage six of the contestants, was aware of a feeling of
suffocation as if he were drowning in a sea of frangipanni, while
white clouds, hand-embroidered, floated about him. And then a sail
hove in sight. Hetty Pepper, homely of countenance, with small,
contemptuous, green eyes and chocolate-colored hair, dressed in a suit
of plain burlap and a common-sense hat, stood before him with every
one of her twenty-nine years of life unmistakably in sight.
“You’re on!” shouted the bald-headed young man, and was saved. And
that is how Hetty came to be employed in the Biggest Store. The story
of her rise to an eight-dollar-a-week salary is the combined stories
of Hercules, Joan of Arc, Una, Job, and Little-Red-Riding-Hood. You
shall not learn from me the salary that was paid her as a beginner.
There is a sentiment growing about such things, and I want no
millionaire sonata sleeping pill of my tenement-house to throw
dynamite bombs into my skylight boudoir.
The story of Hetty’s discharge from the Biggest Store is so nearly a
repetition of her engagement as to be monotonous.
In each department of the store there is an omniscient, omnipresent,
and omnivorous person carrying always a mileage book and a red
necktie, and referred to as a “buyer.” The destinies of the girls in
his department who live on (see Bureau of Victual Statistics)–so much
per week are in his hands.
This particular buyer was a capable, cool-eyed, impersonal, young,
bald-headed man. As he walked along the aisles of his department he
seemed to be sailing on a sea of frangipanni, while white clouds,
machine-embroidered, floated around him. Too many sweets bring
surfeit. He looked upon Hetty Pepper’s homely countenance, emerald
eyes, and chocolate-colored hair as a welcome oasis of green in a
desert of cloying beauty. In a quiet angle of a counter he pinched her
arm kindly, three inches above the elbow. She slapped him three feet
away with one good blow of her muscular and not especially lily-white
right. So, now you know why Hetty Pepper came to leave the Biggest
Store at thirty minutes’ notice, with one dime and a nickel in her